Collaboration has been a buzzword in the nonprofit world for years, making me take notice several years ago when I was in charge of fundraising for a nonprofit in Birmingham, Alabama. I can’t even count how many grant meetings I went to where “collaboration” was the topic of discussion. It made sense, of course. In the nonprofit sector it’s a best practice to avoid duplication of services, maximize impact through partnership, and generally be a good steward of financial resources. A problem, however, always arose when two agencies joined in collaboration without the key ingredient: similar purpose. Without a similar guiding purpose–for example, a disconnect between two “collaborating” groups’ mission statements–there will inevitably be conflict, and most likely, dissolution of that collaboration. The same is true for mission collaboration.
We hear in Matthew’s account of the resurrection that some did not believe Jesus had truly been raised from the dead. Even some of his original disciples had doubts. After Jesus gathered together eleven of his disciples he said this to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20 ESV).
Eugene Peterson’s The Message says it this way: “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age'”(Mt 28:18-20 MSG).
This is our point of unity as followers of Jesus. We are to share this story, welcome others into God’s family, teach them how to follow him, and trust that he is with us. This is the foundation of mission partnership.
When I first met Francis, our church had been in partnership with him and his ministry for fifteen years, since his time in seminary. That partnership had practically meant annual financial support, prayer in Sunday services every couple of months, and hosting him for visits when he came to the states, which wasn’t often. In recent years, one of our services chose to adopt Global Teams as one of two mission partners, the other, a local ministry. This small and strategic decision has easily been the most impactful one for a strong collaboration. Weekly prayer for Global Teams, the invitation for Francis to share stories from his work during his visits, and the opportunity for more personal connection has led to a sense of our unified purpose.
Back in March, the Advent brought four women to Malawi and were joined by Global Teams field partner Julie Gildon. This trip was one of the best I’ve ever been a part of, and the simple explanation can be traced back to a sense of shared purpose. The Holy Spirit had already connected our hearts to the people in Malawi through prayer, and our relationship with Francis is centered on our shared desire to introduce all nations to the living God, made known in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. In our time with Francis, we met people who had come to faith through Francis’ ministry, or the ministry of someone he trained. We witnessed children sharing the Gospel with one another. We even saw the beginning stages of a new ministry that will serve as a connecting point for both Christians and Muslims. In all of this, we were not outsiders. We were not mere observers; we saw ourselves as co-laborers. We engaged in the work of prayer. We sought to encourage. And we added our voices to the larger chorus, singing, “Jesus is Lord!”
Time spent with Francis and other Global Teams partners in Malawi gave me a picture of heaven that I carry with me through the streets of Birmingham. Like an invisible locket that hangs near my heart, I carry images of those I will spend eternity with, thanks to the mission of Christ being spread throughout the earth. Pictures of Martha and Memory from Chisomo, of Agnes and her children in Salima, of the Ulrichs, and of Grace and her schoolmates on the farm.
As you seek to engage in true mission partnership, I encourage you to keep going back to the words of Jesus. Just as he commissioned his disciples, he has also commissioned us! May the God who raised Jesus from the dead unite us as partners in mission, and, in the words of Charles Wesley’s famed hymn, “My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad, the honors of Thy name.”